Hugh interviews atheist Richard Dawkins
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HH: Special hour of the Hugh Hewitt Show with Richard Dawkins, a fellow of New College, Oxford, where he taught for many, many years, the author of many bestselling books. He’s also a member of the Royal Society of Literature, a fellow of both of those, and of course, well known to the world at large as the author first of The Selfish Gene, and most recently, his brand new book, The Greatest Show On Earth. Professor Dawkins, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
RD: Thank you very much.
HH: Thirty years ago, I took Stephen J. Gould’s course in natural selection as an undergraduate, and we had to read The Selfish Gene back right after it had come out. And The Greatest Show On Earth, your new book, kind of produced déjà vu in me. How much has changed in the case for evolution in the past thirty years?
RD: Well first of all, I’m gratified and surprised that Stephen J. Gould made you read The Selfish Gene. I thought he’d have been very hostile to it.
HH: No, it was really quite a remarkable book. But this is, you know, thirty-two years ago.
RD: Yes, well, I haven’t changed my views on how evolution works. But there’s not a lot of The Selfish Gene in The Greatest Show On Earth, because The Selfish Gene was about a different way of looking at natural selection, and The Greatest Show On Earth is about the evidence that evolution is a fact, the evidence that it’s true. So The Selfish Gene rather assumed that evolution was a fact, whereas The Greatest Show On Earth shows the evidence that it is.
HH: And in the past, in the thirty-odd years that have separated the publication of The Selfish Gene and The Greatest Show On Earth, what has science shown that was not known thirty-odd years ago when you wrote The Selfish Gene?
RD: Lots of new molecular data, molecular genetics. It was, of course, going in 1976, but an awful lot more is now known, lots of species, not just the human species, but lots of other species have now had their genomes completely sequenced. And so it’s now possible to see coming together a whole detailed tree of life, which is much more detailed than we ever had before. So we know the history of life much more thoroughly than we ever did before.
HH: I thought you would say the molecular, and of course, the Lenski experiments are all new since that time as well.
RD: Just wonderful stuff, yes. I mean, a beautiful illustration of how you can speed up evolution, because bacteria have a generation time of about half an hour.
HH: But in terms of the fossil record, has there been anything that is the central discovery of the last three decades that you think fill in…
RD: There’ve been lots of nice, new fossils have been discovered. We don’t need fossils in order to demonstrate that evolution is a fact. We, I mean, it would be an obviously true fact even if not a single fossil had ever been formed.
HH: I know, that’s a central argument of The Greatest Show On Earth, but I was just asking in terms of the last thirty years, what would be the most important fossil record discovery?
RD: Well, Lucy and other human fossils, including Ardipithecus Ramidus, which was published only, I think, a week ago, was discovered a bit earlier than that. There have been some nice, new fossils in Wales, nice, new fossils of, what else have we got, some early lemur-like creatures, early primates, some, oh, well, lots of new stuff on the Burgess Shale, and similar Cambrian invertebrate fauna, especially from China. So yes, lots of exciting fossils.
HH: Okay, of course, you have changed a lot in over thirty years. You were not a celebrity then. You are a celebrity now, and you were known primarily for your scientific views then. Now, you’re known for not only your scientific views, but for your anti-faith views. Fair characterization?
RD: Yes, it’s probably true. I mean, my anti-faith stance was very clear in The Selfish Gene. I made no secret of it. But I guess it is better known now, yes.
HH: Are you familiar with David Berlinski?
RD: I have come across him, yes.
HH: He’s very much in agreement with you on the evidence for evolution, but very much opposed to your conclusions regarding what that means for the concept of God.
RD: I’m surprised to hear that he’s in agreement about the evidence for evolution. I thought he was an anti-evolutionist.
HH: No, The Devil’s Delusion makes it clear that he believes very much there is evidence there, but he…
RD: Okay, well, he’s changed his tune then.
HH: He goes on to write that your arguments, “Go from what God is, He is unlikely, to whether He exists, it would appear not, inferences of the sort that are typically not deductive. They do not impart certainty to their conclusions.” How do you respond to that, Professor Dawkins?
RD: I’m not sure that I really understood that. I mean, he accepts evolution, but then, tell me again what he said after that?
HH: That your argument runs from what God is, that God is unlikely, to whether He exists, it would appear not. Inferences of this sort are typically not deductive. They do not impart certainty to their conclusions.
RD: Well, that’s of course true. I mean, you can never be absolutely certain that anything doesn’t exist. But you can show that it’s unlikely. That’s a pretty good, not exactly a final conclusion, but it’s certainly worth saying.
HH: Isn’t the universe itself unlikely, though?
RD: Well, but it’s there, isn’t it? And we’re in it, so we can see what we see. We find ourselves in a universe. So however unlikely, it clearly did happen.
HH: And so that’s what his argument is, is that you can’t say yes, we have to accept the universe as unlikely, but we can accept that God is unlikely, just because the one unlikely is event is visible to us, and the other unlikely event isn’t.
RD: I think there is a difference there. I mean, for the universe to come into existence, physicists are working on understanding that. And the beginning of the universe, as physicists would now understand, it would be a supremely simple event. And admittedly, it’s still something that requires a lot of understanding. It’s a very difficult thing to understand. But for God to exist, a God capable of developing the laws of physics, a God capable of answering prayers and forgiving sings, and reading our thoughts, and all that kind of thing, that requires, that’s an immensely complicated entity. That’s the kind of entity which we now explain by evolution, that’s the kind of entity that comes into being as a result of a long, slow, gradual process, long after the beginning of the universe.
HH: But the universe is itself awfully complicated, Professor Dawkins. Where did it come from?
RD: Well, the universe is not awfully complicated at the beginning. It has become very complicated through such processes as evolution by natural selection.
HH: No, I’m talking about the whole cosmos. Where did that come from, 13 billion years ago?
RD: It came from the big bang, which is not a complex process. It’s a simple process.
HH: And what preceded the big bang?
RD: Well, physicists won’t answer that question. They will say that time itself began in the big bang, and so the question what preceded it is illegitimate.
HH: What do you think?
RD: I’m not enough of a physicist to understand what I’m saying, but I have to say that that’s what physicists say.
HH: So when you consider before the big bang, what does Richard Dawkins think was there?
RD: I don’t consider the question, because I recognize that it’s an intuitively appealing question. I recognize that I, along with everybody else, wants to ask that question. Then I talk to physicists who say you can no more ask what came before the big bang than you can ask what’s north of the North Pole.
HH: Dr. Francis Collins, are you familiar with him?
HH: Head of the Human Genome Project until recently…
HH: His new book is The Language Of God. He writes in it that the idea that scientific revelations would represent an enemy in the pursuit of understanding the book of Genesis is ill-conceived. How do you respond to that?
RD: Well, I understand Dr. Collins’ point of views, that there is a compatibility between evolution and religion. How he manages to get that to the book of Genesis, however, I don’t know. The book of Genesis, after all, was not written by any philosopher or scientist of any great wisdom. The book of Genesis was written by tribesmen who had no privileged information at all. And so he, Collins would make a much stronger case if he would give up on the book of Genesis, and say that there is a compatibility between his conception of some sort of God and evolution. I wouldn’t follow him there, but it would be an awful lot easier to follow him than if he says it’s compatible with the book of Genesis. Why the book of Genesis, not any other origin myth of which there are thousands all over the world?
HH: So you don’t believe a Creation is compatible, or God is compatible, with what you know of the physical universe?
RD: I think it’s very unlikely, but what I’ve just said was that I would find that a lot easier to accept that I would the book of Genesis, for which there is absolutely no positive reason to find any acceptance for.
HH: Dr. Collins also writes on Page 164 of The Language Of God, that Richard Dawkins is the master of setting up a straw man and then dismantling it with great relish. Are you two not friendly?
RD: We’re very friendly. We’ve had several encounters. We had one hosted by Time Magazine, which was a very friendly encounter. He’s an extremely nice man, and so am I. And we had lunch together, I gave him lunch in my Oxford college, New College. We had a very amicable discussion, and we agree about most things, just not on the supernatural.
HH: Professor Gould, whom I referenced earlier, is quoted in your book, and quoted in Collins’ book, excuse me. And Gould says to say it for all my colleagues, and for the umpteenth million time, science simply cannot by its legitimate methods, adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm it nor deny it. We simply cannot comment on it as scientists. If some of our crowd have made untoward statements claiming that Darwinism disproves God, then I will fine Ms. McInerney, and have their knuckles rapped for it. Your reaction, Professor…
RD: Yes, I mean, that’s a very politically expedient thing to say, of course, because if you’re trying to, if you’re an educator, as he was and I am, trying to get scientific education on the rails, and to stop the anti-evolution Creationists in education, you want to get the sensible religious people on your side. You want to get the bishops and vicars and people on your side. And of course, they do believe in evolution. However, to say that science cannot say anything whatsoever about the existence of God, I think that is complete nonsense. When you think about what most people’s conception of God is, it is of a miracle-working being who raises people from the dead, who turns water into wine, who walks on water. These are all scientific claims, and they’re all, as Gould of course would agree, false.
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HH: Professor Dawkins, you won’t debate Dinesh D’Souza. Why not?
RD: I don’t know why I should have to answer that to you, just like that, as though you’re some kind of prosecuting attorney. I don’t like him very much. He shouts, he’s loud, he’s rude. I don’t see any reason why I should spend my time. I’ve got plenty of other things to do. Why should I debate any particular individual?
HH: I’m just asking. Hitchens has debated him eight or nine times, and is very complimentary of him. Hitchens is on my program quite often.
RD: Yeah, he likes debating. I don’t particularly like debating. I’ve got better things to do. I’m very busy. I’ve got books to write, I’ve got other things to do. I will occasionally do debates, but I don’t see any reason why just because somebody challenges me to a debate, I should accept.
HH: Did you ask for a $100,000 dollar donation to the Southern Theological Seminary, to your foundation, in order to debate Dinesh?
RD: I forget who it was. I did that to somebody. I don’t think it was him, actually. It was somebody else, I think.
HH: And why put that much of a price on defending what you consider to be sort of an inescapable conclusion of science?
RD: That’s my way of saying no. I mean, I knew of course that nobody would pay $100,000 dollars, and I just said well, if you really, really want to, and I was very clear that it was not going to come to me personally, it was going to go to a foundation for the promotion of reason in science.
HH: Are you, in your refusal to debate any and all comers who have established credentials like D’Souza…
RD: Well, I’ve debated Francis Collins, whom I have great respect for.
HH: But people like D’Souza, et cetera, people who are perhaps not as genteel, are you evidencing fear that the arguments might be flimsy in the public setting?
RD: Not at all. Absolutely not at all.
HH: Don’t you think the public are entitled to infer from your unwillingness to do…
RD: They can infer what the hell they like. I don’t care. I have a job to do, and I’m going to get on and do it.
HH: All right. At the outset of your book, early in your new book, The Greatest Show On Earth, you write about science teachers, “when they explore and explain the very nature of life itself, they are harried and stymied, hassled and bullied, even threatened with the loss of their jobs.” How often has that occurred?
RD: It’s never occurred to me, I am very happy to say, and I would give short shrift to anybody who threatened me. However, I have heard over and over again from American school teachers, especially at school rather than at university, over and over again, I’ve heard from them, more or less heart cries, that they are not able to teach their subject properly, because they are indeed hassled and harried, and all those other words that I used.
HH: You see, I’m flabbergasted by that. That would be big news. I’m in the journalism business, and if that had happened even once, especially the idea of someone being fired for teaching evolution, it would have been an international cause celeb, and I’m…
RD: Oh, well, that’s very interesting then. I mean, I’m interested to hear you say that, because that makes, that suggests to me that what I should do is collect together some of the letters that I received. I thought that was undisputed. I thought it was well known.
HH: Oh, it’s absolutely disputed. I think actually, you’ve been bamboozled by people claiming your sympathy, when they in fact have never been fired. I don’t know of anyone who’s been fired from the public school system for teaching evolution in the thirty years I’ve been doing this.
RD: All right. Well, if you’ll send my publisher your address, I will, the next time I get letters along those lines.
HH: But letters wouldn’t be dispositive, would they? I mean, you get letters from Creationists as well, and you toss them aside as piffle.
RD: All right. I mean, I can’t actually produce chapter and verse over the telephone like this, but I, I’m, I think I’m a fairly good critical observer, and these sounded pretty convincing to me.
HH: I would just suggest it’s really not that big of a problem. Let’s get to the substance of the book. There are fascinating chapters in here. I mean, I really, by the way, I loved The Greatest Show On Earth. I particularly love stuff like the bits about the dogs and the snouts, and the breeding…
RD: Yes, okay, yeah.
HH: …and about wolves adapting to the new waves of man versus natural selection, et cetera.
HH: But in terms, you then made a leap which left me a little bit trying to do calculation. It’s on Page 81. “The time that has elapsed since our fish ancestors crawled out of the water to the land is about three and a half million centuries, which is to say about 20,000 times as long as it took to make all the different, really very different breeds of dogs from the common ancestor they all share.” I think you are implying there’s more than enough time, and that for man to have evolved from fish, because of the nature of the adaptations demonstrated by dogs and wolves. Is that what you’re saying?
RD: Yes, I was saying if you see what can be achieved when selection is very strongly applied by human readers, admittedly, and it’s achieved in a matter of centuries, then you extrapolate that out to the hundreds of millions of years that it took to go from fish to mammals, then it does become very plausible, yes.
HH: But what I was looking for in the book, what I thought I would get, is later on when you talk about our common ancestor on Page 188, our common ancestor with the chimp is about six million years ago…
HH: And Lucy’s at about three million years.
HH: Why not just, you know, do the straight line of the number of generations, and here are the adaptations that occurred, and…because it would just seem to me that that’s what the big issue is, is this common ancestry claim, and that if it’s…as opposed to saying you know, fish, dogs, wolves, all this stuff, here’s Lucy, and here is how Lucy got to us. Why not write that down?
RD: I thought I did. I don’t quite see what the distinction is you’re making.
HH: Timing. Timing. You know, it’s not whether, it’s not from when the fish came out of the land. People argue about the common ancestor, the chimpanzee, which you put at six million years ago. And I’m looking for, maybe I missed it, I read the book pretty closely, where is that laid out, to get us from the…
RD: You mean, where’s the evidence that that ancestor was six million years ago?
HH: That and where’s the timeline from six million years ago to today?
RD: Oh, okay. The evidence comes from molecular dating. So what you do is you take any pair of modern animals, and we happen to be talking about chimpanzees.
HH: I understand, but where is it in the book?
RD: Oh, I can’t remember whether I happened to leave that bit out.
HH: That bit is everything, isn’t it, Professor?
RD: No, there’s a lot, all sorts of other stuff in the book.
HH: I know, but you spend a lot of your invective on the Creationists, about whom they just want to argue common ancestry with you, and that would seem…that’s what I went back through the book twice looking for…
RD: Let me see if I get this straight. You’re saying that I simply asserted what, that humans and chimps have a common ancestor six million years ago?
HH: You did assert that on Page 188.
RD: Yes, okay. Now is it the common ancestry you think that I didn’t substantiate, or the date?
HH: No, the date…not the date. Neither, in fact, but that the amount of time necessary, the six million years, or three million years from common ancestor to Lucy, and from Lucy to human beings.
RD: Well, the dating is done by the molecular clock, which I did discuss, and I forget which chapter it is. But it’s not in the normal dating chapter. The dating chapter, which is I think Chapter 4, is about how you date fossils, okay? And that’s done by radioactive dating.
HH: I’ve got all that, and I read it, and I understand. I’m just trying to figure out why…
RD: Okay, now in the case of the human-chimp common ancestor, we don’t have that fossil, and so we can’t date that. What we do have is the molecular genetics of modern chimps and modern humans.
HH: So you’re running a mathematical program backwards, in essence?
RD: Yes. What you’re doing is you’re taking animals for which we have a good fossil record, where we actually know where the common ancestor was, because we can see it in the fossil record, and then we look at how different the genes are in those animals. And that gives us a calibration of the molecular clock. You say that this particular gene, you get so many changes in the gene per million years.
HH: I’m not being very articulate, and I apologize for it, Professor. Maybe after the break, I can come back and we can think about it during this minute. What I was asking you is, if the argument is primarily that you have with young Earth Creationists, you don’t have much of an argument with Divinely-guided evolution, if that’s it, why not lay it out that here’s Lucy, and here’s how we got here, not how we date the genes backwards, but here are the intermediate steps as best we know them, that we know. When we come back, I just think it would make this much easier to get our arms around, at least a public conversation about.
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HH: Professor, where we were going in the last segment, I was wondering, do you have an idea or a map, or a general idea of how we got from the common ancestor to Lucy, and from Lucy to modern man, in terms of both dates and where it occurred, you know, Africa versus Asia?
RD: Yeah, Chapter 7 is about nothing else. Chapter 7 is about lots and lots of human fossils. They’re all in Africa, and there are numerous pictures of them. I don’t see what your problem is.
HH: Well, you were quick to admit that there are lots, that the argument about intermediate fossils is a false one, because everything is intermediate, and I thought that was actually kind of persuasive in a rebuttal. I was asking for the positive chart that says here’s where we go, and what you would like to have filled in. Where do you think is the hardest argument to make, et cetera?
RD: Well, in the case of human fossils, we’re doing pretty well. I mean, there’s a pretty continuous, gradual record certainly all the way from modern humans as far as Lucy, and now as far as Ardipithecus. Then, there’s a bit of a gap before you hit the common ancestor with chimpanzees. But that’s only to be expected.
HH: Well, I know that, and your argument about the fossil record is that every fossil that has ever been discovered has never been discovered out of order. Very interesting stuff. I’m just curious as to how many of those additional steps you think would be necessary to overwhelm the opposition?
RD: Okay, well, it would…I think we’re pretty good from Lucy, or rather from Ardipithecus onwards. It would be good to go backwards from Ardipithecus, which is 4.4 million years, to go backwards to 5 million years, 6 million years, to the common ancestor with chimpanzees. That would be nice.
HH: So after Lucy, what’s the next most forward one closest to us?
RD: After Lucy, that would be, I would think, Australopithecus Africanus, or Homo Habilus.
HH: And about how many years separate those two?
RD: About, well, actually, Homo Habilus would be only a few hundred thousand years from Lucy.
HH: And after Homo Habilus, what’s next?
RD: I would think Homo Erectus, which would be maybe about another million years, and then Homo Sapiens.
HH: And so do you expect, Richard Dawkins, that as the continued search for fossils goes on, that those gaps in the record will be filled in?
RD: Well, I don’t call them gaps. I mean…
HH: I know that, but…
RD: They’re pretty close.
HH: But do you expect any intermediate fossils to be discovered for those periods?
RD: Yes, I do, but I don’t think we even need them, because they’re already so close, that the terminology, I mean, for example, Homo Habilus is sometimes called Australopithecus Habilus, they’re so close, that the terminology becomes disputed.
HH: And do you expect they will all be in Africa?
HH: And none of them in Asia, none of them…
RD: Well, humans first moved out into Asia about one and a half million years ago as Homo Erectus, so there are specimens in Asia which were independently there, and they came from Africa.
HH: And so a hundred years from now, when this conversation is underway, what do you expect most of the argument to be about, if indeed there is an argument left?
RD: Well, there already isn’t an argument left, because if you actually look at the evidence, it is completely conclusive.
HH: Well, there is actually, as an objective lawyer, there is an argument left. Whether or not you think you’re persuading…there’s an argument in front of every jury, whether or not one side wins every time.
RD: Well, what I’m saying is that because the evidence is already so persuasive, and some people are not persuaded by it, there’s no particular reason to think that amassing even more evidence is going to persuade people who are un-persuadable.
HH: Well, you made the argument in the book that not believing in evolution is tantamount to Holocaust denial.
RD: They’re both history denial, yes.
HH: But do you actually believe they are equivalent?
RD: They’re not equivalent morally, because Holocaust denial is usually motivated by a political agenda which is extremely sinister.
HH: Agreed. But they’re not also…I don’t want to answer your question. Do you believe that they are actually equivalent in terms of evidentiary…
RD: Yes, I do.
RD: Yes. I do think they’re equivalent in terms of evidentiary provability, yes.
HH: And when people say well, we have reels and reels of film of the Holocaust victims in Birkenau, and in Auschwitz, and there is no film. I know you’ve got the gorilla experiment in the book, but isn’t that sort of a reach that undermines the credibility of the argument?
RD: It is…okay, it is of course totally convincing that the Holocaust happened. There is absolutely not a shadow of doubt that the Holocaust happened. The same is true of evolution, even though there isn’t reels and reels of film. The evidence from everything else we have is so convincing, that they’re on a par with each other.
HH: So if people don’t believe that those sets of evidence are the same, doesn’t that undermine your credibility? If they intuitively say well, that’s just ridiculous, the evolution debate is interesting and ongoing, and there’s nowhere near the kind of evidence there is for the Holocaust, therefore I should not believe Richard Dawkins, because he’s making outlandish claims.
RD: But there are Holocaust deniers. Holocaust deniers are extremely numerous.
HH: I know that, but that’s not what I’m asking. I’m saying if someone says those are not the same evidence sets, then Richard Dawkins is making an outlandish claim about which I should be unpersaded.
RD: Well, I think you could say just the same thing about the Holocaust. I mean, it is staggering to me that anybody could possible doubt the Holocaust, and yet there are people who do.
HH: I’ll be right back with Richard Dawkins.
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HH: Professor Dawkins, you talk about the Cambrian period quite a lot in the evidence for evolution in The Greatest Show On Earth. What do you think happened there?
RD: In the Cambrian?
HH: Yeah, that allowed for the explosion of the fossil record.
RD: Yes, this is about half a billion years ago, a little bit more, and it is the time when most of the phyla that we now recognize first appear. They seem to have appeared rather suddenly, because there doesn’t seem to be much history behind them. Nobody knows exactly what happened then. Most people think the reason that they do appear suddenly is that animals have to have hard skeletons in order to fossilize, and maybe either they didn’t have hard skeletons, or they were too small. I make the point in the book that there are modern phyla, for example, the flatworms, which are, the flatworm is a very large group of animals, very important group of animals, and yet there are no fossils at all, which means that it’s possible for a phylum to simply appear as if from nowhere, without a fossil record.
HH: Sure, but what, given that you talk about how many new species appear in the Cambrian period, what do you think actually happened about the evolutionary chain there, or about the conditions on the Earth that allowed for all the skeletal systems or the growth in size?
RD: That’s a very interesting question. I don’t know. It’s possible that it was an evolutionary arms race between predators and prey, that predators suddenly got, became, well, not suddenly, because this whole process took about twenty or thirty million years, which is not a short time. It seems like overnight compared to more recent times, but nevertheless, it was a long time. There were some very big predators that appeared, which may have stimulated the evolution of hard-shelled creatures among their prey, who needed the protection from them. And the arms race then escalated, so that the predators became hard as well. And that’s one possibility.
HH: And is that what you, Richard Dawkins, put your faith in?
RD: I don’t put my faith in anything. I think that something interesting happened. Maybe they just got bigger at that time. Maybe there was a major shift, and one theory is that it was the invention of eyes that was important.
HH: I’m running low on time, with this segment and the next one only, so I want to jump ahead.
HH: On the person of Jesus Christ, did He exist?
RD: I suspect He probably did. I suspect there are lots of itinerant preachers, and one of them was probably called Yehoshua, or various other versions of Jesus’ name, but I don’t think that a miracle worker existed.
HH: How do you rate the evidence for Christ’s existence, manuscript evidence, eyewitness evidence, things like that?
RD: As I said, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a man called Jesus or Yehoshua existed. I would say the evidence that He worked miracles, He rose from the dead, He was born of a virgin, is zero.
HH: Well, you repeatedly use the analogy of a detective at a crime scene throughout The Greatest Show On Earth. But detectives simply can’t dismiss evidence they don’t want to see. There’s a lot of evidence for the miracles, in terms of eyewitness…
RD: No, there isn’t. What there is, is written stories which were written decades after the alleged events were supposed to happen. No historian would take that seriously.
HH: Well, that’s why I’m conflicted, because in your book, you talk about the Latin teacher who is stymied at every turn, and yet Latin teachers routinely rely on things like Tacitus and Pliny, and histories that were written centuries after the events in which they are recording occur.
RD: There’s massive archaeological evidence, there’s massive evidence of all kinds. It’s just not comparable. No…if you talk to any ancient historian of the period, they will agree that it is not good historical evidence.
HH: Oh, that’s simply not true. Dr. Mark Roberts, double PhD in undergraduate at Harvard has written a very persuasive book upon this. I mean, that’s an astounding statement. Are you unfamiliar with him?
RD: All right, then there may be some, but a very large number of ancient historians would say…
HH: Well, you just said there were none. So there are some that you are choosing not to confront.
RD: You sound like a lawyer.
HH: I am a lawyer.
RD: Oh, for God’s sake. Are you? Okay. I didn’t know that. All right. I will accept that there are some ancient historians who take the Gospels seriously. But they were written decades after the events that happened, and they were written by people with an axe to grind, written by disciples. There are no eyewitness written accounts. The earliest New Testament…
HH: I understand you believe that, Professor. I do. But what I don’t understand is how you can use the analogy of the Latin teacher or the detective, when it breaks down given your dismissal of evidence you don’t see fit to deal with squarely?
RD: I think that’s a very, very specious comparison, because the Latin teacher is dealing with enormous numbers of documents. Remember, my Latin teacher is supposed to be confronted with skeptics who don’t even think the Latin language was ever spoken. And there’s huge amounts of documentary evidence of the Roman Empire. We’re talking about the entire Roman Empire here. There’s enormous amounts of eyewitness accounts written down at the time. It just is no comparison.
HH: Actually, it is. It’s actually a very persuasive…in fact, the arguments for the manuscript evidence of Christ and His doings is much stronger than anything, for example, Tacitus or Pliny wrote. It’s just much stronger. Now you might counter with Cesar’s Gallic war commentaries, and you do mention those, and those are contemporary accounts by an eyewitness, but so are the Gospel evidences, say, of Luke accompanying Paul about. And yet you’re dismissive of the miracles that occurred in there. So I’m just wondering…
RD: They may be. The accounts of Luke accompanying Paul may be real, but Luke never met Jesus.
HH: But again, I’m not arguing that point with you. It’s just that you dismiss that all without dealing with it serially, which would not be, I think, consistent with your detective argument, or your Latin teacher argument, because…
RD: I cannot believe that you’re doing more than just trying to score points. You cannot seriously be saying that the case for the existence of the Roman Empire is as weak as for Jesus.
HH: That’s not what I’m saying at all. I didn’t say that. I said that your argument, by analogy, to a Latin teacher being harried by people who deny certain things, but especially your idea of a detective using evidence at a crime scene, that it doesn’t comport with your dismissal of the evidence for Christianity and the historical Jesus.
RD: Okay, do you believe Jesus turned water into wine?
RD: You seriously do?
RD: You actually think that Jesus got water, and made all those molecules turn into wine?
RD: My God.
HH: Yes. My God, actually, not yours. But let me…
RD: I’ve realized the kind of person I’m dealing with now.
HH: But what would that person be? The Stephen J. Gould student that you’re dealing with now?
RD: Okay. You think that…
HH: Wait, we’ve got to go to a break, Professor.
RD: …something, because you’ve read in the Gospel, you think that Jesus turned water into wine?
HH: I know you’re dismissive of me, but we’ve got to take a break. I’ll come back, I’ll give you a chance.
- – – – –
HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt with Richard Dawkins. Professor Dawkins’ brand new book is The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com. Professor, I have one last question, it’s very important for me to ask this, because I just kept coming back to it. You argue in the book at one point that the retina is so poorly designed, that it argues against the idea of a designer, because it’s such a messed up job. Conversely, though, if the object of the designer was to create a world in which faith was possible, but also disbelief, in order to make faith a choice and not an obligation, wouldn’t then you have to say that the world was wondrously constructed to that end, to preserve free will and the choosing?
RD: You mean that God deliberately made mistakes so as to deceive us?
HH: Not mistakes, that God created a world in which faith was possible by an order of its complexity, to allow for the Richard Dawkins of the world to exist, and be completely, absolutely convinced that He did not, that that’s the only situation in which faith is real.
RD: So in order to make that the case, God said well, now let’s make the eye look like a botched up job so that…are you saying…
HH: I think you understand what I’m saying, and you’re saying no, you don’t believe that, that it would not in fact fit that, a giant…for example, have you read the Harry Potter novels?
HH: Do you read any fiction at all?
RD: Of course.
HH: What’s the most complicated bit of fiction you’ve read? Like War and Peace?
RD: Yeah, what’s your point? What point are you making?
HH: That complexity in design, and counterintuitive steps, et cetera, don’t disprove the idea of genius at work. Genius at work often works through complexity and through misdirection.
RD: I think that what you’re kind of saying is that God made the world look as though it had evolved in order to test our faith, when it didn’t evolve.
HH: No, not test our faith. I’m saying that the world has been made as it is to allow for faith, because if it was made too easy for the simple-minded, it would simply be routine, and everyone would believe, and then there would be no faith.
RD: That would be a pretty unpleasant sort of God. I think, I would say you’re welcome to believe in a kind of God who would do that, but it’s not the kind of God that would appeal to me.
HH: Well, it’s not about what appeals to us, it’s about what is. And you also write that a beneficent designer might, you’d idealistically think, minimize suffering. But not if the soul was infinite, and suffering was necessary for its wisdom.
RD: No, that’s true. I, once again, you’re welcome to that belief, if that’s what you want to believe. There’s a far more parsimonious explanation for suffering, which is natural selection.
HH: Did you ever believe in God, Richard Dawkins?
RD: Of course, I was a child.
HH: And when did you put off your foolish belief in God?
RD: When did I put away childish things?
RD: At the age of about fifteen.
HH: And under who’s influence was it?
RD: I suppose it was the influence, not of Darwin directly, but of the education in evolution that I was receiving.
HH: And did you just up and one day declare that’s it, no God?
RD: No, it was a more gradual process than that, as it was with Darwin himself. I mean, he gradually lost his faith.
HH: Well, I hope you’ll come back. I hope I’ve demonstrated…I take your books very seriously, I read them and enjoy them quite a lot, and I would, I’d love to continue the conversation another time. Will you be game, Professor?
RD: So would I, yes.
HH: All right. Thank you, my friend. Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show On Earth is the new book.
End of interview.